So What Now! The Lucky Seven List for sparking the love with your Database Software

Nonprofit Software selection is the first then comes the success with it

Do you need to Jump Start your Database Implementation? 

You implemented your Database Software, tweaked it to make it your own, integrated it with other systems like Marketing Automation system, and trained your staff, members, and donors on how to use it… So Now what? In this article, we wanted to address a typical challenge which many Nonprofit Executives face with various Database Software systems (Membership, Donor, and CRM) to run their organization. And, that is keeping the “Love” going with your database initially and long term.

Here are your Lucky 7 tips to maximize adoption of your database  in your company. 

Create Project Goals for the Database Software Project—and Publicize them

You need to be able to track usage and success, so start by creating measureable Smart goals. Once you’ve got them, those goals should be clearly communicated to the end users from the executive team; this keeps you focused, aligned, and accountable.

Create some Energy and Fire tied to KPI’s

Every nonprofit should have some goals.  So, whether it’s membership or donor key performance indicators put them down and track your progress initially and long term. People—especially those tied to performance metrics—are naturally attracted to best themselves. So offer up a few friendly contests to encourage usage among the staff. Create dashboards, leaderboards, and reports with your Donor Management System or Membership Management Systems to track progress. Be sure to provide some rewards along the way.

Executive Directors Need to Lead by example.

I understand it’s difficult for many large nonprofit executives to get to wrapped up into the enterprise wide system. But, for Mid to Small associations, you have to get everyone in the trenches and that includes the Executive Directors! This cannot be relegated to the IT staff or the Membership department to lead. It’s important for managers and execs to know the ins-and-outs of the system, too. It builds both trust and buy-in from everyone. Besides, if your CEO or Executive Director is checking donor contribution or membership level data, you can be sure your staff will keep on top of key indicators which are important to you.

Measure what Matters!

At the end of the day, it makes no sense to spend one dime, if your nonprofit doesn’t use the software. Create an adoption report to determine who’s using the system and how. It’s an easy way to identify your rock star power users… and the ones that need an additional nudge. With a system like Nimble AMS, you can start-up a Chatter group to discuss adoption challenges and get user feedback. You may even use a private social media solution like HigherLogic which can integrated with many Association Management Software and Donor Management solutions.

Train, Train, & Re-Train. 

When was the last time your staff had formal training? We have to remind many that training isn’t a one-time thing; it’s something you’ll need to re-visit again and again. Train your current staff, of course, but also be sure to have a training plan for new hires. Remind users where they can find training materials as needed; you can even offer incentives for employees that proactively seek out training. Document! Document! Did I mention that you need to document your processes!


It’s easy to explain the organizational benefits of your membership or donor database software right after the 1st check has been written. However, as time wears on, there are less obvious perks remembered for the individuals using it. Make sure employee know how the system will help them—and make those benefits so obvious that they see no alternative. Increase buy-in by encouraging them to provide feedback and make suggestions for improvement.

Attend Membership Software User Group Conferences & Events

Many software partner vendors have a users group such as HUG,  NiUG, P Connect, AUG. With participation, your staff will have immediate feedback with users, allow for sharing of war stories from Vietnam, & special influence opportunities with the vendors updates in technology. In my personal experience, clients who participate in a user group are always the most satisfied and get the most out of their investment. Sign up for one now!

We can’t emphasize enough how critical it is that your organization get off to a good start with your Database Software project whatever the flavor (CRM, Membership, or Donor). But, even as important is the ability to sustain the energy and the passion which once existed when you first purchased the software. You need to continue the “LOVE”.

These are just several ways which you may consider. What are others?  Let me know your thoughts. Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Software ease of use like beauty is in the eyes of the beholder

We make it easy to find software for your Nonprofit. Need help?

The Art of Rating Ease of Use of Nonprofit Association Management Software

The notion of “Software ease of use” is straight forward. It’s a no brainer to discern, right? If it meets “X” criteria, then it’s easy to use. Well, not so fast my friends. To further complicate the matter, what if you just read the following testimonials below on (an awesome site for associations) or heard them from a peer during your software evaluation process? 
“I have used and researched other association software products and none are as easy-to-use or intuitive as “XYZSOFTWARE,” said Richard Gere, Executive Director, The American Gigolo Association of America. “I am a very satisfied customer. With XYZSoftware,  I can find what I need and move about the software with no problem”.
“What’s best about XYZSoftware is the ease of use,” said Brad Pitt, President, I AM The Man Association. “We can easily handle donations and pledges without any problems”.

While we have obviously made up the names here, the quotes are almost verbatim to the same ones heard all too often by Nonprofit Association Executives when the software is working for them. So, why would it be that the same software wouldn’t work for you? Or, viewed differently by another association. Before, we answer that question, let’s define “Ease of Use”. While it’s difficult to define , here are somethings to consider (a working definition) which we like to use to address the common feature request of “Ease of Use” when exploring new software options:

An easy-to-use Nonprofit Association Management software system is present when:ease of use in software for

  • Similar: The Nonprofit Association Management software system is familiar because it works as expected and similar to another tool which a user has experience. Ex. Like Word, Excel, Google Apps etc.
  • Clicks: The Nonprofit Association Management software system takes less time and fewer clicks to accomplish the goal at hand.
  • Automation: The Nonprofit Association Management software will take routine tasks and automate them for us.
  • Efficient: The Nonprofit Association Management software will allow the end-user (staff, donor, or member) to efficiently enter all of the vital information required with oversight.
  • Intuitive: The Nonprofit Association Management software system is intuitive and obvious in how a task can be performed.
  • Flexible: The Nonprofit Association Management software system easily maintains that data as your business changes. It’s flexible.
  • Extraction: The Nonprofit Association Management software system can quickly extract the vital information needed for reporting in a usable format.
  • Maintain: The Nonprofit Association Management software system is easy to deploy, enhance, update, integrate and maintain long term.

Of course, every good software sales vendor will tell you that his or her software is the easiest to use ever. Further, it’s very likely that they may be able to provide many testimonials from happy clients to that effect. So, back to the question at hand, “Why wouldn’t it appear easy for you, if someone else found it easy?” 

The point is this. “Ease of Use” is in the “Eyes of the Beholder”. In some cases, only a mother could love some of the crap found in the 1990 GUI of some outdated systems in the market today. To be sure, it’s not necessarily that the vendors are intentionally trying to trick or deceive nonprofits, but everyone has different levels of technical skill, knowledge, and prior experience that will impact how easy it is for them to use a piece of software. In other words, “Ease of Use” is subjective and influenced by a user’s prior experiences and expectations. 

Therefore, in order to determine if a particular software will be easy to use for your organization, we suggest taking some objective steps prior to the selection to do the following:

  • Trial: Select several typical tasks you want to do in the software and put it to the test. For Example, have a volunteer and staff person enter a member application online, finding and updating member profile information, go online and register for a self-service feature like registering for an event, paying dues, or buying something)
  • Documentation and Support: Provide your staff with whatever documentation is available – and let them contact the vendor’s technical support, just as they would in a real-life situation if they need too.
  • Ratings: Ask your staff to rate the ease of use of the system for each task on a scale of 1-10 based on the working definition found above.

Finally, we encourage our clients to document the software selection process. It’s one thing to remember why you selected one system over the other now, but it’s going to be even more important to remember why you selected the system even a year later when there is staff turnover, a new version has been updated, & a new board has been put in place. There version of the truth (Ease of Use) may be different than yours.

If and when you are embarking on your software selection journey to find “Easy to Use Software”, please give us a call. Remember, it’s free to make the call and visit with us, but costs a lot if you make a mistake.Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Top 10 Reasons Your Database Software May Suck?


Database Software for Nonprofits

According to our records, there are well over 150 commercially developed database software vendors who purport to offer a system for member and donor based organizations today. Whether you call it Donor Management Software, Association Membership Software, Software for Nonprofits, Membership Management Software, Fundraising Software, Philanthropic Software, Software for Member Management, or even Engagement Management Software etc. the options are plentiful. In this article, we wanted to explore some reasons why nonprofit association management software may fall short of meeting expectations.

When Database Software May Suck!

For those starting a nonprofit, the good thing  is there are many database options. The bad thing for those who have been searching is that there are many options too! As one Nonprofit Executive recently told with disbelief and a sense of bewilderment:

” Why are there so many systems, does all the software designed for nonprofits suck? Or, are they all just terrible?”

My answer was an emphatic “No!”. There are actually a considerable amount of good commercially off the shelf software options for all sizes of nonprofits today. The challenge is that unless the people, processes, and technology are fit right even the best database can stink. And, a lot of success is dependent on the people, processes, experience involved in determining satisfaction with a particular solution.  So, we agree that there are a lot of options designed for different nonprofit sectors, right?


No doubt, as a Nonprofit Executive today, you and your staff have many nonprofit software options. I know all too well. I have spent a large part of my software career personally reviewing hundreds of these systems and know their solution and teams members well. Suffice it to say, each and every one of these applications above come to the proverbial table with their own unique way of providing an online database which was designed to solve the needs of nonprofit organizations. It simply takes some time to figure out your “unique” needs and then determine which is best suited.

When May a Database Suck….The Top 10 List  

If you get focused on searching for the best software today, you will certainly “google” your way to a perpetual beating. Or, you may have found a plethora of feedback (good and bad) on various software review sites which has you either shaking your head to agree or disagree with the submitters. The reality is that anyone of these membership database software or donor software programs can potentially be perceived as sucking, stinking, and being terrible by users:

  1. Poor Fit: When they are not properly fitted to your specific requirements, staff, and resources.
  2. Improper Goals: When the expectations are out of line with what the program was designed to solve.
  3. Bad Implementation: When they are not implemented the right way.
  4. Expectations: When the companies have unrealistic expectations & forget they are nothing but databases.
  5. Awful Processes: When Nonprofit Executives, staff, and service consultants don’t reinforce the right processes.
  6. Project Management: When companies don’t assign strong administrators or project management.
  7. Out of Date: When Nonprofit Executives do not pay to stay up to date on the software (in the case of on premise options).
  8. Staff Turnover: When there is staff turnover and there is no commitment to training of new hires.
  9. No Standardization: When Nonprofit Executives don’t enforce rules for standardizing data input ongoing into the system.
  10. No Integration: When the system isn’t used by everyone due to lack of integration, you will have shadow IT solutions and poor results.

The Complex Psychology of a Software Review 

According to one report from Lehman Reports on membership software, clients remain only moderately satisfied with their current membership database software. This would support the perception felt by some that all nonprofit sucks. Right? But, I believe it’s important to take reviews and studies with a grain of salt. Word of mouth is subjective and sometimes knowing the context of a review (attitudes, experience, expectations, what was sold etc.) tends to make every opinion a little clearer. And, that’s challenging to do in any survey, review site, or conversation with a peer. So next time you are on getting a software recommendation from a friend, remember that too!

Most Membership Software, Donor Databases, & CRM Software Are Good

In the last 20 years in the software business, I have reviewed & interviewed many types of databases. As a result of my time in the software industry and nonprofit world, I am certainly more forgiving of bad perceptions and hearing of various software failures than many others. And, despite hearing many bad things over the years, I am still a firm believer in the value of databases (CRM, Donor, Membership etc.) which can and do help improve the lives of so many types of businesses.

As a result of this time in the market, I am more convinced that software success is usually found when paired with the best service and support from a reputable software vendor who is committed to the success of the client, focused on the industry, communicate effectively with their clients & consistently delivers results.

The secret sauce of software success is that Support Matters!

Folks, I am certainly not wearing rose colored glasses. Yes, any database or online membership website can be (become) terrible (even suck) if neglected or run in an ill-advised manner. Like any instrument used in the wrong way (knife, gun, or golf club) or provided to the wrong audience (child or responsible adult) they can and do go wrong.

If done well, software projects usually do not fail based on selection. If the database is fitted appropriately and placed in capable hands from a trusted vendor, database software can be a powerful tool for executing your mission and increasing your value to your donors and members.

Do you believe that your software sucks? Let’s talk, OK?

We can help determine if you may have some “fixable” problems or may need to sort through the options and be your guide in the selection process. Schedule your free consultation today.

Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind!


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